There was a time recently when boxing fans were entitled to wonder if a next generation of top-level fighters were ever going to emerge. The class of the 90’s hung on. Reflecting the ageing demographic tag which was readily hung on the sport as it struggled for relevance among the emergence of UFC and amid the strain of nefarious sanctioning bodies who tore it apart from within. Maybe, almost a decade too late, the new class is here. I hope a rejuvenated Kelly Pavlik is among them.
Pavlik, the Youngstown hero, captured the imagination of the American public in 2007-08 with his straightforward and aggressive style. He enjoyed two tumultuous knockout victories over Edison Miranda and most notably Jermain Taylor – the man who had twice squeaked past Bernard Hopkins – and a deserved rematch victory over Taylor too.
Hopkins of course was the doyen of the old brigade, one broadly comprising Roy Jones, Oscar DeLaHoya, Marco Antonio Barrera and the like as the safety first Pay Per View options at HBO. Thomas Hauser, a better and more qualified pen than I, has cast plenty of spotlight on the ramifications of HBO’s strategy of recycling ageing fighters and growing too close to Golden Boy Promotions but in Pavlik it appeared the network had struck gold.
A good old-fashioned, but newly minted knockout artist.
Sadly, the middleweight talent pool was shallow, and in a tactical bid to embolden his own credentials as the leading fighter of a new era, he jumped up to Light-Heavyweight and tackled the 44 year old former champion. It proved to be a step too soon, or a step too far.
Hopkins was masterful. He laid traps which Pavlik strode into in the only way he knew, forwards and repeatedly. It was akin to a chess grandmaster and a youthful prodigy, the strength and will were there but the refinement and skill were lacking.
As is the modern idiom, Pavlik was written off. Suddenly, his remorselessly aggressive style was reevaluated as predictable and one paced. His perceived ability to move through the weights from Middleweight to dominate and defeat Hopkins and his contemporaries Calzaghe, Jones and Dawson at 168 and 175 pounds, and even beyond, were put on ice.
It struck me as a little reactionary to trash Pavlik so readily, his limitations had always been evident but Hopkins was simply the wrong fighter, at the wrong time at the wrong weight. Like so many facets of boxing it illuminates yet more of the hypocrisy its most devote fans are guilty of. Yearning for the days of old when the best fought the best, marvelling at the courage of Jake LaMotta and his five attempts to defeat Sugar Ray Robinson. To my knowledge nobody mentions the Raging Bull’s numerous defeats in an assessment of his standing in the pantheon of middleweight greats. They all remember his courage, power, stamina, chin and relentless aggression. So why write off a young fighter for a solitary defeat to a wily old champion?
Pavlik isn’t in LaMotta’s mould, nor does his career have the same brevity. But wouldn’t it be better to applaud his willingness to tackle the trickiest assignments available to him? Since regrouping Pavlik has won his sole comeback fight against Marco Antonio Rubio and is now set, following injury and illness, to face Miguel Espino on December 19th.
Another victory could see his lost fight with Paul Williams become more significant in 2010 and allow him to reclaim his place at the vanguard of a new era. Boxing should embrace this willing warrior. Of course, there will be those who muse over his motives having seen him pull from a Williams date slated for just two weeks before this new fixture despite proclaimations of intent for their fight.
I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt. I just have a good feeling about the lad. Naive? Perhaps, maybe the double-dealing inherent in boxing is my Bernard Hopkins.